Zambawood: Combining Luxury Beach Accommodation with Special Needs Advocacy

Situated over a vast stretch of beach front property, once a dry land, is a beautiful expanse of 26-hectare farm thriving with lush vegetation, one with a scenic view of the clear sea of Zambales. Tucked within its green surroundings rests a lovely abode that serves as the main artery of Zambawood. For all its visual gifts showcasing modern architecture design and its stylish interior, there is a remarkable tale of origin that needs to be known. The first time I met Rachel Harrison I immediately noticed the marvel in her eyes while she narrates the inspiration behind Zambawood.

Rachel Harrison
The Zambawood house covers 450 square meters with 4 spacious bedrooms that comes with own bath and shower and air conditioning. The house also includes an indoor and outdoor dining area, a swimming pool plus a TV and gaming room.

The main protagonist of the tale of Zambawood is 22-year-old Julyan, the tall doppelganger of a young Kyle McLachlan. Diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder at a very early age, Julyan grew up like most kids with autism, having difficulty expressing himself. Daily tantrums like throwing house objects became a natural occurrence at the Harrison households in Europe and in Singapore.

The Zambawood property encircles a wonderful set of nature setting

After years of being guided with the best autism programs from first world countries, Julyan still yearns for that permanency—a home where he could thrive. Exhibiting a true mother’s instinct, Rachel decided it is best to set up base in her hometown of San Narciso in Zambales for Julyan to find a place he could call home.

The wooden bridge leading up to the Zambawood beach for the sunset viewing

Seeing double beautiful: my girlfriend Monnette and the famed Zambales sunset
Having graduated with an architecture degree, Rachel started designing the Zambawood house. Pooling inspiration from her world travels as a flight attendant and a wife to her expatriate husband Keith, Rachel was able to design a 450-square-meter home that fuses together post-modern design aesthetics with indigenous wooden based interior that expresses a country vibe suitable for a perfect retreat.

Zambawood Activities includes cooking lessons using Breville cooking appliance. During our stay Foodologist Donna Chua and Chef Kristoffer Young showed us the basics of preparing a mouth-watering Quesadillas and the Zambawood's signature garden salad

Surrounded by undeveloped farmland, Rachel toiled with other expert farmers until they were able to sustain and build an organic farm where Julyan eventually found a new routine and, more important, an environment where he is now able to indulge in many activities such as farming and cooking.

 The staff at Zambawood always sets up an open air tent complete with mats and pillows for sunset viewing. The mobile cocktail bar serving spring rolls, ‘Zambaslaw’ (Zambawood’s signature garden salad) and ceviche makes the afternoon snack perfect to go along with a glass of Zambarita (Calamansi Margarita) or any cocktails of your choice.
Rachel intimated during our visit to Zambawood. 
“It seems like children who have special needs find comfort in routine and one of the activities that my son loves to do is farming. It soothes him a lot! It was a joy to finally see my son happy and at ease. Because of his progress, we decided to improve this place and make it into a suitable home that he—and others—will be comfortable in.”
More than a year after Zambawood first opened its doors to visitors, Rachel proudly explains Zambawood’s mission as a place whose mission is to;
"instill fun and purpose, and to increase the happiness of adults with autism by helping them have life-long purpose and friendship in the local community. Acting always with integrity, compassion, and fun.”
Rachel further emphasizes that 
“Zambawood enables the ‘exceptional adults’ to have activities and find greater meaning in their lives through our vocational and artisan training programs.  As their skills and confidence increase, they are assured of meaningful lifelong work in the Zambawood family. The exceptional adults receive their training and master their skills through the help from our professional team. These include our service staff, farmers, chefs, hospitality/service trainers, artists, sports coaches, and more, many of whom give their time without charge.  These wonderful members of our family make a massive contribution and give us much heart.”
the next morning we jog from the Zambawood house to Zambawood Cafe over a path covered by a canopy of Pine trees. 
Investing time and money on a big property like Zambawood is no means a walk in the park. When Rachel first surveyed the large chunk of land, she didn’t see the bareness of it. Instead, she saw a potential waiting to be realized. So like any loving mother, Rachel stepped on the plate with determination and took a hard swing at fate. Judging at what Zambawood has done to Julyan and the local community it now belongs to, it seems she triumphed with a home run.

Julyan demonstrates how to cook his favorite 'Pakbet' he is shown here with his mother Rachel Harrison and Teacher Ricky Tumadiang, a SPED Specialist who taught us the significance of sustaining a routine for a person with Autism.

Zambawood has become a favorite place for family reunions and corporate retreat, but the original advocacy still remains in place. Guests who visit with family members with special needs always leave Zambawood with heaps of inspiration as evidenced by Julyan’s flourishing presence in a beautiful environment.

Keith and Rachel Harrison
Today, Zambawood is composed of the main Zambawood Boutique House, Julyan’s Pine Beach Farm (where guests can indulge and learn farming activities), Julyan's Surf BnB Cafe (Art–Surf-Bar), a lodge for budget travelers located a few hundred meters from the main beach house, and Fun & Purpose Store by Zambawood, where beachwear, artisan accessories, and bottled food harvested from the farm can be bought.

For more info please visit Zambawood's Website and Facebook Page. 

(This article was published in the Lifestyle / Travel section of the Septemeber 13, 2015 issue of Manila Bulletin)